By Alexandra Paul
Raymond J. Arvin January 17, 1950- April 2019
On Saturday, June 22, a body was pulled up from the bluffs beneath Santa Monica’s Palisades Park. John Doe #135 had decomposed beyond recognition, but the coroner found that he had probably died in his sleep at his hillside encampment 2 ½ months before.
John Doe #135 is 69 year old Raymond John Arvin. He was my friend.
I am writing this so his life doesn’t disappear into oblivion, because even though Ray spent his last years on the streets, his daily life continued to be eventful, he was excited by it, and he was loved by many.
I met Ray over 30 years ago, when I think he still had a roof over his head. I am an actress and I remember him first from the premiere of Dragnet ’87, a studio comedy I which I played Dan Aykroyd’s love interest. Ray was at the red carpet among the paparazzi, yelling out stars’ names. But Ray stood out because his sport coat looked a bit disheveled and, instead of long lensed Nikon, he held a small instamatic camera. He was at many Hollywood events with a press pass and his little camera, and he saved me once when my agent asked me to go to a Grammy party as a date for Wham’s Andrew Ridgeley. Mr Ridgeley ditched me as soon as we got to the event and I was standing there not knowing a soul, when Ray with his big smile and slight Southern accent came up to me, asked to take my photo and chatted for a bit. I was deeply grateful to him.
Perhaps because I got weary of show business events, or maybe hard times fell on Ray, but for the next 2 decades our paths did not cross. It wasn’t I started volunteering for the Santa Monica chapter of Food Not Bombs [FNB] in 2013 that I saw him again. Ray was a regular at the Thursday night dinners we served for the hungry and homeless. He was usually slightly rumpled and sometimes he arrived unshaven with a smear of dirt on his face, but he was always cheerful. He gave cards to almost every volunteer at one point or another, his neat print with lots of exclamation marks expressing his gratitude in minute detail. He had a knack for dates – especially anniversaries and birthdays. We celebrated his and he remembered ours. He would read his multi page letters of gratitude to FNB as we cleaned up after a night of serving a large, hot vegan meal to l00 people. He walked our volunteer Viv to her car to make sure she was safe and then came back to help carry the recycling, chatting all the way. Then he would hop into volunteer Jeff’s coupe to be dropped off along PCH or at the top of the Incline.
Every once in a while, Ray didn’t appear and the plate we had set aside for him went to someone else. It was always because he was at a free concert at the beach or a similar event – I joked to Ray that he got more culture and did more cool LA things than I. We had a ritual that I attribute to his very human need to be seen and heard: he would ask “What am I, Alexandra?” and I would reply “You are awesome, Sir Raymond” and he would laugh delightedly and say “Thank you!”.
On April 4, 2019, Ray announced that it was FNB’s 6 month anniversary at our new location, Santa Monica’s Salvation Army. I looked at the calendar when I got home that night and saw he was, as usual when it came to oddball dates, right. What I didn’t know was that evening was also the last time I would see Ray. A couple weeks later, volunteer Emily mentioned she had been waiting to give him a card and he wasn’t at the dinner. The next week when he didn’t show up, we started looking for him. We made calls to hospitals, shelters, homeless outreach programs and filed a Missing Person report. We handed out flyers at the weekly Food Not Bombs dinner, in hopes that other folks in the homeless community might have seen him. I was disconcerted by how little I knew about him, now that I needed to. We missed his smile and upbeat presence greatly, and he would have been tickled by all the concern.
When his body was found in repose at his camp 3 ½ months later, the coroner couldn’t positively identify him because no one knew his relatives and he had no teeth. All of us at Food Not Bombs knew it was Ray, though, because he was wearing clothes we had given him. His glasses were set aside and his wallet was still there, so he probably died in his sleep. Fittingly, we sent in the myriad cards he had written to each of us to help ID him, but it turns out he never licked the envelopes so there was no DNA.
Ray’s life should not go unnoticed simply because he lived in a tent. Raymond J. Arvin from somewhere around Loogootee, Indiana was a vibrant, interesting, loving man who brought sunshine to our lives.. He loved hugs and movies and people. He had very neat handwriting and would fill a card (or several pieces of paper) with his appreciation. He taught me about the beauty of gratitude and once saved me when I was ghosted by a pop star. All of us at Food Not Bombs miss you so much, Ray.